By: Anthony Mikos (MIKE-us)/PSIMET Shop Manager
In February of 2016 I quit my job of working in a warehouse to work at…well…manage, according to my business card, a bicycle shop. With a month behind me, I figured I would set aside some space on the site to relate my experiences in this new career.
So about two weeks in to my tenure at Psimet, Rob gave me a pile of “dead wheels” that needed to go to scrap. He told me to cut the hubs out of them and set them aside on the scrap pile. With the weather having been as bipolar as it has been, business has been up and down. So on a slow day, I took some time to take apart the scrap hubs. Just to poke around in them and see how they worked, and then put them back together. I considered this just a low-risk way for me to pass some time but also maybe learn something useful. I am a fairly visual learner. It helps me to actually see how pieces of moving equipment interact for it to really click in my brain. There were three or four different hubs…all of them different brands. I found the internals all operated the same way. The shared the same functional design, but all had variances in size and shape. I took out bearings and poked around in them until my curiosity was satisfied and chucked them back in the scrap box, not thinking much of it.
Fast forward until Tuesday this week. It’s my off day. My wife was out with a friend, my daughter was in school, and I fancied a casual bike ride to the coffee shop. So out I headed out on my Felt F65X. I purchased it last August. It was my first big boy bike. I commuted to work on it and raced on it throughout the summer, fall, and winter of 2015 and in to this year. At some point, a loud clunking noise began happening intermittently when I rode it. I did my best to identify the sound. After a lot of of unsuccessful attempts at remedying it, I then tried to ignore it as best I could. On this crisp, sunny spring day, though, as I clunked and clunked my way to Starbucks, I could take it no more. After all, I work on bikes for a living now. Not only should I be out there representing myself and my shop with a clean, quiet bike, but I need to figure out diagnosing weird things like this, and I have a shop-worth of tools at my disposal. I drank my overpriced beverage and made the short ride to the shop. One thing I had not checked yet was the cassette. I hadn’t removed the cassette since I got the bike, and having taken many cassettes off and cleaned them for customers, I knew, even if the cassette wasn’t the problem, it could use some TLC.
After removing the lock ring and jimmying off the first two cogs, I noticed what appeared to be a ton of corrosion fusing the remaining cogs to the body. Picking at it confirmed this for me. I presented it to Rob with my typical “it shouldn’t look like this, right?” and he gave me the all too familiar “why do you hate your stuff?” line that I’ve been hearing ever since my bike first darkened his work stand a year or two ago. Recommended I clean it all up and make sure it was properly torqued down when I put it back on. It took a lot more time than I had hoped, but I slowly managed to pull the cassette fully off and clean it thoroughly. Then I began trying to do the same to the freehub body. I noticed after cleaning off the corrosion that the thing looked pretty chewed up. Rob has told me that cassettes get notched in against the freehub splines due to the rider being powerful, although I think the “make sure it’s properly torqued” comment was meant to convey that the cassette was not probably torqued properly begin with, which is how it both became loose and notched and corroded and, therefore, noisy.
Well, not so much. As soon as I left the shop on my so-fresh-and-so-clean overhauled cassette, the clunking persisted. This lead to some very loud cussing as I rode home, vowing to best this stupid clunk the next day when I was at work.
Wednesday rolled around and after I finished my morning to-do list I threw the Felt up in the stand and tried to think through what might be causing the noise. It seemed intermittent. There was no one spot in the pedal stroke where it occurred. It happened in any gear. Rob walked by in his gluing mask. While I still have yet to decipher 99% of what he has said to me when he is wearing that thing, I distinctly picked out “check the pawls” this time. I nodded, not wanting to let on that I wasn’t 100% positive what pawls were, but I had a fairly good idea, and I am totally willing to throw caution to the wind – as you’ll soon see – when working on my own stuff.
I pulled the freehub body off, with the cassette still on this time, and looked at the little metal thingies that ratchet against the little metal spiney things inside the hub. For those of you who don’t speak layman, the little metal thingies are the pawls. And, yes, as it turns out, they were a little damaged. I didn’t anticipate such a small thing could create such a loud and dramatic noise, but Rob assured me that it could and was. So…what to do? He told me to see if we had anything laying around in the shop that would fit. He meant pawls. I knew I had those old freehubs laying around. I examined them and, while they were all undamaged, they also were all of a different size. However…there was one freehub body from a HED wheel that fit into my hub. Instead of having four pawls like my original, damaged hub, this one only had three, but otherwise it seemed to fit and spin perfectly well. I showed this to Rob and he gave me that look you give a child who presents you a picture they drew and are really proud of but it not only looks stupid but they misspelled your name on it. It’s the “how do I not completely break this person’s spirit” look.
I am used to seeing that look, btw. I get it often. From everyone.
He began explaining to me why it wouldn’t work, until he looked at it and spun it and got that curious look in his eye like “well, maybe this stupid fucking idea might actually work…” So began one of my favorite things in all of the world…the process of making something work that shouldn’t. Solving a problem for free with things you have on hand. As Rob plied his trade, he muttered things under his breath like “don’t ever do what I am about to do” and “I can’t believe this is the kind of shit we do.” These are typical things I hear Rob say. Particularly when he’s working on my stuff, because he knows my preference never involves just buying a replacement part, or, as it is more commonly known…doing things the easy and correct way.
So after finding and changing bearings and and doing a final check to make sure it would fit on my axle and actually fit and spin properly in my hub body, I raised my final concern…the HED freehub body was a 10 speed…and I have an 11 speed. You see, putting a ten speed cassette on an eleven speed freehub body is as simple as adding a spacer so the cassette sits properly positioned on the hub. A ten speed freehub body is just too small to accept an eleven speed cassette. Unless, of course, your bike shop is owned by an inquisitive engineer with a lathe who likes to solve problems…so he takes it to his lathe and mills off a good chunk of the body and then suddenly I have a “new” freehub that doesn’t clunk. More importantly, I have another story to tell about how this particular bike is mine, which I think is worth a lot more than just ordering a replacement part.